The new Eurosurveillance website is almost here.

Eurosurveillance is on the updated list of the Directory of Open Access Journals and in the SHERPA/RoMEO database. Read more here.

On 6 June 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) published updates to its ‘Essential Medicines List’ (EML). Read more here.

Follow Eurosurveillance on Twitter: @Eurosurveillanc

In this issue

Home Eurosurveillance Monthly Release  2003: Volume 8/ Issue 11 Article 5
Back to Table of Contents
en es fr

Eurosurveillance, Volume 8, Issue 11, 01 November 2003
Surveillance report
Clonal circulation of Salmonella enterica serotype Heidelberg in Italy?

Citation style for this article: Mammina C, Talini M, Pontello M, Di Noto AM, Nastasi A. Clonal circulation of Salmonella enterica serotype Heidelberg in Italy?. Euro Surveill. 2003;8(11):pii=434. Available online:


C. Mammina1, M. Talini2, M. Pontello3, Di Noto AM4, A. Nastasi5

1 Centre for Enteric Pathogens of Southern Italy (CEPIM), Dipartimento di Igiene e
Microbiologia "G. D'Alessandro", University, Palermo, Italy
2 U.F. Biotossicologica, Azienda USL3, Pistoia, Italy
3 Centre for Enteric Pathogens of Northern Italy (CEPIS), University, Milan, Italy
4 Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Sicilia "A. Mirri", Palermo, Italy
5 Dipartimento di Sanità Pubblica, University, Florence, Italy


Phenotypic and genetic characteristics of 21 strains of Salmonella serotype Heidelberg isolated in the years 1999 - 2003 from different sources in Italy were studied. Susceptibility patterns, plasmid analysis, and PFGE were used as epidemiological markers.
Although non-homogeneous drug resistance patterns and plasmid profiles had been detected, PFGE patterns suggest the hypothesis of a nationwide clonal spread of this serotype associated with poultry.

Salmonella enterica serotype Heidelberg (S. Heidelberg) is a group B Salmonella which apparently accounts for a small proportion of cases of disease in humans. Between 1994 and 1997, S. Heidelberg was the tenth most frequently identified serotype isolated from humans in Italy (1.3% of all human isolates), although it does not appear among the top ten serotypes from the data from the Enter-Net Italia surveillance system available for 1999, 2000 and 2001. National data from the veterinary surveillance system of Salmonella serotypes do however confirm the presence of S. Heidelberg in the poultry farm environment, this serotype being identified in 2002 from 6.5% and 20.3%, respectively, of Salmonella strains from chicken and turkey (1).

Reports from countries including the United States (US) and Canada describe a high prevalence of the Heidelberg serotype in both human and non-human sources, mainly food and livestock (2-4). A nursing home outbreak attributable to this serotype, associated with Campylobacter jejuni, has also been reported by Layton et al (5).
In January 2002, a small family cluster of infections of S. Heidelberg, involving two children and their asymptomatic father, who was working in a poultry slaughterhouse, occurred in Pistoia, Tuscany. The strain exhibited plasmid-mediated resistances to ampicillin and sulphonamides. At the same time, in Palermo, Sicily, one S. Heidelberg strain with identical drug susceptibility pattern and plasmid profile was isolated from retail commercial chicken entrails. Between March and June 2003, S. Heidelberg was again identified at the Centro per gli Enterobatteri Patogeni per l'Italia Meridionale (Centre for enteric pathogens for southern Italy, CEPIM), from two paediatric cases and two samples of whole chicken on sale.
A typing study by phenotypic and molecular techniques was thus performed to substantiate a possible relationship between S. Heidelberg isolates from these two areas of Italy. A retrospective analysis of available isolates identified in the years 1999-2001 from different regions of Italy was also carried out.

Materials and methods
The study included 21 isolates from human cases, chicken products and the environment from different regions of Italy (Table). Epidemiological data about possible exposures to contaminated sources (eating of particular foods, previous travel or farm visit) were unavailable for most cases. All samples of chicken were on sale in Palermo and Agrigento (Sicily), but processed and marketed by two poultry factories with nationwide distribution channels.
Susceptibility patterns were assessed by disk diffusion according to the criteria of the National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards (6). Plasmid content was investigated by the alkaline lysis method (7). PFGE was performed by a standard procedure (8). The DNA size standard used was the bacteriophage lambda ladder ranging from 48.5 to 1.000 kb (Bio-Rad). Macrorestriction fragment patterns were visually
analyzed and classified by previously established guidelines (9, 10). Isolates with electrophoretic patterns differing by one to four DNA fragments were classified as subtypes of the same pulsetype. For the purpose of this study, different pulsotypes were considered to identify distinct clones of the Heidelberg serotype.

Five distinctive antimicrobial resistance profiles were identified among the S. Heidelberg isolates under study (Table 1). The predominant pattern - 11 of 21 isolates - was characterized by resistance to ampicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline and nalidixic acid, with the addition of kanamycin in two cases. Since 2001 the ampicillin-sulfonamides resistance pattern became more frequent. Two strains only were susceptible to all the antimicrobial agents tested.

Six plasmid profiles - a to f - were identified among 19 of the 21 isolates (Table 1 and Fig. 1). The two fully susceptible isolates were also plasmid free.
Three distinct XbaI PFGE patterns, designated X-A to X-C were observed (Fig. 2). Within PFGE type X-A pattern there were three subtypes X-A1, X-A2 and X-A3. PFGE subtype X-A1 accounted for 16 of 21 isolates, whilst subtypes X-A2 and X-A3 were represented by a single isolate, respectively (Table 1). The DNAs of the 16 strains with XbaI-PFGE pattern X-A1 were digested by BlnI. Fourteen were indistinguishable and were assigned the pattern B-A1; the remaining two were assigned two different subtypes B-A2 and B-A3, differing from B-A1 by two bands each (data not shown).

The strains of S. Heidelberg investigated in this study cannot be considered as a representative sample of the strains circulating in Italy because of the selection method used. This is an inherent limit of passive surveillance systems, such as those set up in most European countries for enteric pathogens, that depend on voluntary adherence by peripheral laboratories. Nevertheless, these surveillance networks are often able to trace the transmission routes of some Salmonella clones and describe time and space trends of the serotypes of major interest to Public Health.
PFGE patterns appear to be consistent with the dissemination of a common outbreak strain, though different drug susceptibility and plasmid profiles have been found. PFGE analysis has indeed proved to be a very effective tool in determining whether some isolates are essentially clonal, and its application as the basic method in molecular surveillance networks of verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli and Salmonella has already been successful for some years (11). Furthermore, the results of a recent study on epidemiology of S. Heidelberg in the US have demonstrated the presence of a clonal strain over a ten year period, thus suggesting the possible persistence of a particular strain over a wide area for a prolonged period (12). Moreover, the results obtained concur with reports by other authors who have used PFGE to identify clonal relationship between Salmonella isolates, but found different antimicrobial resistance patterns and plasmid profiles within an apparently unique chromosomal clone (6,13,14). In our case too, the intrinsic instability of extra-chromosomal DNA, the selective pressure by use of different antibiotics in different places, and the broad period of observation might justify the heterogeneity of the Heidelberg isolates on the basis of their plasmid and drug resistance patterns. On the other hand, more strain-specific markers, such as the drug resistance pattern/plasmid profile, might be more successful than PFGE alone in delineating local transmission routes triggered by clonally spreading Salmonella serotypes, such as Enteritidis and, presumably, Heidelberg.

The association of such a serotype with avian hosts and eggs has been known for some time. S. Heidelberg was the predominant serotype recovered from ovary samples in a survey of layer flocks in 1991, and its ability to penetrate and grow into the interior of hens' eggs has been well documented (3,15). Moreover, the high prevalence of nalidixic acid resistance within strains of S. Heidelberg, a zoonotic serotype closely associated with chickens and turkeys, could be related to their ecological niche. Indeed, the use of fluoroquinolones is common in the poultry industry and is temporally strongly associated with raising frequencies of resistances in many Salmonella serotypes, including Enteritidis (16,17).
Clonal diffusion of some predominant genotypes may be more widespread than is currently recognized and involve Salmonella strains other than the traditional Enteritidis and Typhimurium DT104 complex. In Italy, Heidelberg serotype is apparently able to spread clonally nationwide through the poultry vehicle. A larger study involving a more representative sample of strains from Italy and, possibly, other European countries might more confidently evaluate epidemiological features of this Salmonella serotype. Molecular epidemiological monitoring should be a routine tool for detection, and quantitative assessment of unexpected events related to zoonotic serotypes.


1. Enternet- Italia. Rapporti annuali sugli isolamenti di Salmonella. At: http://www.iss.laboratori/leb/enternet
2. Harris AA, Cherubin C, Biek R, Edwards LC. Frequency of Salmonella Typhimurium the year after a massive outbreak. Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis 1990; 13: 25-30.
3. Schoeni JL, Glass KA, McDermott JL, Wong AC. Growth and penetration of Salmonella enteritidis, Salmonella Heidelberg and Salmonella Typhimurium in eggs. Int J Food Microbiol 1995; 24: 385-96.
4. Demczuk W, Soule G, Clark C, Ackermann HW, Easy R, Khakhria R, et al. Phage-based typing scheme for Salmonella enterica serovar Heidelberg, a causative agent of food poisonings in Canada. J Clin Microbiol 2003; 41: 4279-84.
5. Layton MC, Calliste SG, Gomez TM, Patton C, Brooks S. A mixed foodborne outbreak with Salmonella heidelberg and Campylobacter jejuni in a nursing home. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 1997; 18: 115-21.
6. National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards. Performance standards for antimicrobial disk susceptibility tests, 7th ed. Approved Standard: M2-A7. Wayne, PA (United States): NCCLS; 2000.
7. Birnboim HC, Doly J. A rapid alkaline extraction procedure for screening recombinant plasmid DNA. Nucleic Acids Res 1979; 7: 1513-23.
8. Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, National Centre for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Standardized molecular subtyping of Escherichia coli O157:H7 by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis: a training manual. Atlanta, United States: CDC; 1996.
9. Tenover FC, Arbeit RD, Goering RV, Mickelsen PA, Murray BE, Persing DH, Swaminathan B. Interpreting chromosomal DNA restriction patterns produced by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis: criteria for bacterial strain typing. J Clin Microbiol 1995; 33:2233-9.
10. Goering RV. The molecular epidemiology of nosocomial infection: An overview of principles, application, and interpretation. In: Specter, Bendinelli M, Friedman H, editors. Rapid detection of infectious agents. New York, United States: Plenum Pub Corp; 1998. p. 131-57.
11. Ransom G, Kaplan B. USDA uses PulseNet for food safety. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998; 213: 1107.
12. Virgin FW, Kubota KA, Ribot EM, Hunter SB. PFGE diversity among Salmonella Heidelberg in the United States. Proceedings of the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases; 2002 March 24-27; Atlanta: CDC.
13. Cormican M, DeLappe N, O'Hare C, Doran G, Morris D, Corbett-Feeney G, et al. Salmonella enterica serotype Bredeney: antimicrobial susceptibility and molecular diversity of isolates from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Appl Environ Microbiol 2002; 68: 181-6.
14. Hartmann FA, West SE. Utilization of both phenotypic and molecular analyses to investigate an outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella anatum in horses. Can J Vet Res 1997; 61:173-81.
15. Banhart HM, Dreesen DW, Bastien R, Pancorbo OC. Prevalence of Salmonella enteritidis and other serovars in ovaries of layer hens at time of slaughter. J Food Prot 1991; 54: 488-491.
16. Threlfall EJ, Ward LR, Rowe B. Resistance to ciprofloxacin in non-typhoidal salmonellas from humans in England and Wales-the current situation. Clin Microbiol Infect 1999; 5: 130-4.
17. Molbak K, Gerner-Smidt P, Wegener HC. Increasing quinolone resistance in Salmonella enterica serotype Enteritidis. Emerg Infect Dis 2002; 8: 514-5. (


Back to Table of Contents
en es fr

The publisher’s policy on data collection and use of cookies.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by authors contributing to Eurosurveillance do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) or the editorial team or the institutions with which the authors are affiliated. Neither ECDC nor any person acting on behalf of ECDC is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in this journal. The information provided on the Eurosurveillance site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her physician. Our website does not host any form of commercial advertisement. Except where otherwise stated, all manuscripts published after 1 January 2016 will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. You are free to share and adapt the material, but you must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the licence, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Eurosurveillance [ISSN] - ©2007-2016. All rights reserved

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.